ACROSS WORLDS

 

By

 

Nikki Harrington

 

Set during their schools days and Raffles's first year at Cambridge.

It's time for Raffles to leave the school and Bunny and go up to Cambridge. Both boys are unhappy but Raffles has promised to write every week to Bunny and to return to the school for Old Boys' Day. A few weeks before his return Bunny receives a warning and makes a promise; a promise he isn't quite sure how he will be able to keep.

An established relationship story.

Written: January 2012. Word count: 17,150.

 

 

I lay in Raffles's arms on his sofa, pressed closely against him, enjoying the possessive, protective and affectionate way he held me. From time to time his lips would find mine and his hands would wander over my body, caressing me lightly as I made soft noises of pleasure and tried hard not to think about what the morrow would bring.

 

It was the evening I'd been dreading for quite some time and the nearer it had got, the more I had dreaded it. You see it was Raffles's last evening at the school; tomorrow he would cease to be a school boy and would leave behind the school and me and head, in September, up to Cambridge where the school boy would become a young man and I -

 

"Bunny, don't cry," he said softly, pulling me a little nearer to him and tangling one hand in my hair.

 

"I'm going to miss you so much, Raffles," I said, trying hard not to sob, but failing.

 

"And I, my dearest rabbit, will miss you," he said, gently tugging on my hair until I let my head fall back whereby he lowered his head and put his mouth on mine and kissed me, his tongue gently touching my bottom lip until I parted my mouth for him and pressed my body against his.

 

"However, it is not goodbye," he said several minutes later as he wiped his hand with his handkerchief before gently rearranging my clothing. "Is it?"

 

I sighed softly and blinked the tears from my eyes. "No," I said quietly. And it wouldn't be; he had promised faithfully that he would write to me at least once a week and he had obtained permission from his parents to invite me to stay with them during the long holidays and he would, of course, be returning for Old Boys' Day - where he would take to the field as an old boy. But it wouldn't be the same and I said as much.

 

"I know, my rabbit. But there is nothing we can do about it, is there?" he stroked my cheek with his fingertip and kissed my nose. I sighed and shook my head. "Did you ask your parents if I might visit your home?" he asked softly.

 

I nodded. "Yes, Raffles, and of course they said you might." And they had; however, Mother had also gently and no doubt intending her words to be kind, told me not to surprised if our friendship if not ceased then became less close. She had reminded me of the, what really was a, considerable age difference when you are our age and how Raffles would make new friends at Cambridge and probably receive invitations to spend time with them particularly during the summer. She had told me not to be too disappointed if that happened; she told me not to allow myself to believe and to hope too much that we would remain in contact with one another.

 

I know she had meant to be kind and had only been trying to protect me from what might be a greater hurt than I would feel had Raffles merely walked out of my life. However, her words had made me think and part of me wondered how correct she would be; after all she was an adult and I merely a young boy still. Raffles was going out into the world and whilst he would still be continuing his education, university life was, I was certain, quite different from life as a boy at a boarding school.

 

"But?" Raffles said softly, moving back a little to gaze down at me.

 

I sighed and tried to turn my head away least he see my eyes and know something was amiss. However, the attempt was, as it always had been, futile and as he gently but firmly prevented me from looking away from him. After just gazing at him in silence for a few seconds, I found myself telling him what Mother had said.

 

He gathered me back into his arms and held me tightly for a moment or two before again moving back and looking at me. "With the greatest respect to your mother, Bunny, she is incorrect."

 

"Is she?" I whispered the words and longed for him to say that she was.

 

He nodded. "Yes, Bunny. I am not going to forget you; I am not going to let new friends I might make come between us. I lo- You are too important to me, Bunny. I'm not going to let you slip away from me."

 

I felt warmed, cared for, reassured - at least to an extent. And yet . . . "But, Raffles," I said, tilting my head back and looking at him, "What if -"

 

He silenced me by kissing me. "Trust me, my rabbit," he said a few minutes later. "You always have, don't stop now."

 

His words warmed me and I sighed with relief as I put my head on his shoulder. "Yes, Raffles," I murmured.

 

"That's my good boy," he said kissing the top of my head. He pulled me a little closer to him and as I settled against his body I could feel he was somewhat hard. However, he gave no indication he wished me to do anything about it, and even though we had been kissing and touching for some months, I still didn't feel confident enough to initiate the contact.

 

For a moment I closed my eyes and let myself imagine what it would be like to fall asleep in his arms, to spend the night with him. I knew such a thing wasn't possible, not even tonight on his last night at the school would it be possible. I sighed softly and moved a little near to him as he gently stroked my head and tangled my terribly long hair around his fingers. Of all things I would miss I believed I would miss him brushing my hair back from my forehead and face, and stroking my head and tangling his fingers in my hair more than anything else.

 

Again I fought the sob that wanted to escape; again I failed; again he gathered me just a little nearer to him and kissed the top of my head before moving me just far enough away from him so that his lips could once again find mine.

 

As we kissed I wondered if he really knew how much I would miss him; if he knew quite how desolate I would be without him. If he was aware of just how afeared I was of having to spend three years without him to care for me and to protect me. If he knew just how much I loved him, how deeply I was in love with him. If he realised that part of me did believe Mother and that part of me feared he would go up to Cambridge and -

 

"Oh, Bunny," he murmured as another sob escaped me. "Please don't cry, my rabbit. I hate it when you cry. Come along; we're here together now, just think about that, just enjoy this evening. Please try, my beloved rabbit. Please."

 

I bit my lip in an attempt to prevent another sob from escaping and tried hard to do as he said. It became easier as once again he mouth met mine and his fingers once more tangled in my hair and he pulled me so closely against him that I no longer knew where my body ended and his began.

 

But as wonderful as the closeness was, especially when he moved his lower body slightly against me, encouraging me to touch him, as perfect as being kissed by him and kissing him was, it also made me remember something else I feared. I tried so hard to push the fear from my mind, but I couldn't.

 

With a sigh I took my mouth from his and moved back a little and gazed up at him. "Bunny?" he made my name a question.

 

"Raffles, will you promise me something?"

 

He smiled. "If I am able to, my rabbit, of course I will."

 

I nodded and forced a smile onto my lips. "Don't tell me."

 

A frown creased his forehead. "Don't tell you what, my rabbit?"

 

I swallowed and shifted in his arms slightly. "When you - You know," I added, now looking away from him and letting my hair fall around my face.

 

Long fingers pushed it back. "When I . . .? When I what, Bunny? You'll have to tell me, my rabbit. I don't understand."

 

I sighed. Why now of all times did he have to fail to understand me? He who had always seemed quite capable of reading my mind now apparently couldn't. I swallowed hard and forced myself to speak. "When you kiss or touch another boy. I'll understand; I know you will of course, but I don't want to know about it. Please, Raffles, promise me you won't tell me." I looked up him, silently pleading with him to understand.

 

He gazed down at me a look on his face I had never seen before and one I couldn't work out. "What makes you think, Bunny, I'll want to kiss or touch another boy?" he asked softly, his tone also unreadable. I shrugged and fidgeted slightly in his arms; why was he asking me such a thing? Why couldn't he understand as he always had? Why wouldn't he just promise me? "Well?" he said softly.

 

I sighed. "Because you always . . . You do. You . . . Look, Raffles -"

 

"Yes, Bunny?" But I just sighed again and shook my head and put it back against his shoulder. "Bunny?" he said softly after a minute or two of silence went by.

 

"Yes, Raffles."

 

"Look at me." I, of course, obeyed him. "Do you think I've been kissing or touching other boys recently?"

 

I looked away from him, I couldn't lower my head as he was holding my chin, but I could look away. "I don't know," I whispered; I was being only half-truthful and I wished I'd never said anything.

 

"Well, my rabbit, in that case let me tell you." I really wished he wouldn't. However, once Raffles has made up his mind about something no one can change it. Thus I resigned myself to hearing things I didn't wish to hear. "The thing is, Bunny, I haven't kissed or touched another boy since the evening I first kissed you," he said quietly.

 

I felt my eyes widen so much they actually hurt me. "Raffles?" I whispered.

 

He smiled down at me in his fond way and shook his head a little. "Oh, Bunny," he said, letting go of my chin to put both arms around me, "my dearest, sweetest, little rabbit, why would I want to kiss another boy when I could kiss you?"

 

I felt my cheeks begin to grow warm and I moved a little in his arms. I believed him; I trusted him implicitly and I knew he wouldn't lie to me. However, even though I believed him, even though I trusted him, even though I knew he wouldn't lie to me, I was still somewhat - I didn't quite know what I felt. I'd been so sure he had been -

 

"Well?" he asked softly, brushing my fringe from my forehead. "Why do you think I'd want to, Bunny?"

 

"But what about -" I stopped abruptly. "You know," I added, staring at him and willing him to understand this time.

 

He shrugged. "As I have told you more than once, my rabbit, it is somewhat overrated and once one has . . ." Now he trailed off and just shrugged again.

 

I was still more than a little surprised, shocked even, by his confession, but I was of course also very happy as I settled down into his embrace again. And then something hit me, "But it will be different," I said softly.

 

"How so?"

 

"Because I won't be there."

 

"Ah," he said quietly. "Well, my rabbit, there are," he paused before adding softly, "other ways." I felt my cheeks become warm again and I turned my head and rested it once more against his shoulder. Some time after he'd kissed me for the first time and gently explained certain things to me that still made me blush to think about them, and some weeks later after he had touched me beyond the touches he'd always bestowed on me, he had taught me something else - which had made me flush far more than I'd done the first time he'd put his hand on my hardness and the first time I'd put my badly shaking hand on him.

 

I was thinking of quite what to say when I felt him move a little beneath me and once more he gently pushed my head from his shoulder so that I met his gaze. "Bunny, are you trying to tell me that you wish to kiss or touch other boys once I have gone?" he said softly.

 

"What? No! No, Raffles! No, of course not! Raffles, how could you possible think I'd -" he finally silenced me, I was aware my voice had become quite loud, by kissing me. When he eventually lifted his mouth from mine and gazed at me I could see he was smiling. I frowned a little. "Raffles?"

 

"I'm sorry, my rabbit, but really your indignation was quite," he gave a half shrug. "So you do not wish to kiss another boy yet you think I will wish to?"

 

I sighed and once more tried to look away from him; once more I failed. "It's just that you've . . . That you've been - Raffles," I pleaded.

 

"Been doing it for much longer than you?" I nodded, relieved that he finally seemed to understand me. "Well, that is true," he was silent for a moment and I just stared at him and waited for him to go on. "But, my rabbit, that could imply that as I have already done it for so much longer then I no longer need it quite so much. Whereas you . . ."

 

"Raffles?" Again I felt my eyes widen until it became painful.

 

To my surprise it was he who broke eye contact and looked away from me. "Bunny, maybe you should consider . . . Maybe you should kiss another boy," he said swiftly, now looking back at me.

 

My mouth fell open. "Raffles, do you want me to kiss another boy?" I whispered.

 

He made a noise that sounded like a half bitten off laugh and for a moment glanced away from me. Then he looked back at me and let his finger trace my cheekbone. "No, Bunny," he said quietly, "No, my rabbit, the idea of you kissing another boy makes me - I never want you to kiss anyone but I," he said softly. "However, I wonder if you should do so."

 

"I don't understand."

 

He sighed. "I am the only boy you have kissed, Bunny, maybe -"

 

"You're the only boy I want to kiss," I said forcefully. "Really you are, Raffles. You do believe me, don't you?"

 

I knew I sounded a little desperate as he gathered me into his arms, put his lips to my ear and said softly, "Yes, my dearest Bunny, of course I know. I just . . ." He tugged me a little closer and just held me tightly. "Very well, my rabbit," he said after a moment or two, now pushing me away again so he could look at me, "I give you my word I will not tell you if I kiss or touch another boy."

 

"Thank you, Raffles," I whispered and smiled up at him.

 

He stared at me and brushed my hair from my forehead. "My beloved little rabbit," he said softly a second before he once more kissed me for a minute or two, before taking his mouth from mine and pulling me more closely into his embrace.

 

We lay for some time, cuddled together, his arms around me, holding me so securely, so possessively, it was as if he never intended to let me go - something that would have made me very happy.

 

Eventually however, he kissed the top of my head, pushed me away from him a little, looked at his watch and said quietly, "It really is time you were in bed, Bunny."

 

I looked up at him. "Can't I stay here tonight?" I asked, even though I knew what his answer would be.

 

He smiled a little sadly as he shook his head. "No, my rabbit, as much I would like nothing more than to spend the night with you in my arms, you cannot stay here. You know that, don't you?"

 

I sighed and nodded. "Yes, Raffles," I said softly.

 

"Come along then," and he encouraged me to move from his arms and stand up. Once we were both on his feet I threw myself into his arms for a moment or two, clinging tightly to him as I fought a desperate battle with tears that wanted to fall - it was a battle which for once I won. He held me tightly before gently pushing me back a little, brushing my hair from my forehead and putting his arm around my shoulders. "Come along, Bunny, we really do have to get you back to the dorm."

 

"Yes, Raffles," I said again, suddenly catching sight of the clock that stood on the mantelpiece. "Raffles?" I gasped as I saw the time.

 

He smiled. "It's all right, Bunny, you won't get into any trouble. Dobson won't do his normal bed-check for another twenty minutes. That's just enough time for you to get undressed, go to the bathroom and get into bed."

 

"Won't he?"

 

He smiled. "No. You may not think so, but the masters were school boys once. They do tend to be a little more lenient, shall we say on the final night of the summer term. But not that lenient," he added swiftly. "Now, come along." And this time he led me out of his study and along the deserted hallways to the house fourth form dorm where he stopped, took his arm from around my shoulders, glanced around him, before lowering his head and briefly kissing me.

 

Once more he brushed my hair from my face. "Try to get some sleep, Bunny," he said softly, choosing those words rather than his usual 'sleep well Bunny'. "And if you wish to come to my study before breakfast, I'll be delighted to see you." He again glanced around him before once more lowering his head and brushing his lips over mine.

 

THE FOLLOWING DAY

 

"Don't go, Raffles," I pleaded with him, as I pushed myself as closely against him as I could manage. The tears streamed down my cheeks and even he had given up trying to dry them for me and now just held me tightly as they soaked into his shirt.

 

"Oh, my very own rabbit, I must. You know that," he murmured. And of course I knew it; I just didn't want it to happen.

 

I told myself I had to stop crying; I had to behave like a boy who would turn fifteen next month, a boy who would the following month would return as a fifth former, a boy whose - I wasn't quite sure what Raffles was - would the same month as I would return to school be starting his new life at University.

 

I told myself not to be so childish, not to let him see me as the young, frightened, clinging, crying boy I was currently being. I told myself I shouldn't let his last memory of me when we were both school boys being of me crying and clinging to him. I told myself to be more mature; to be the boy whom he had promised not to forget; the boy he had promised to write to; the boy he had promised he would see again; the boy he implied he cared enough about not to want to kiss or touch anyone else. But it was so difficult, so very difficult because I would miss him so much.

 

However, I bit my lip, deliberately making it bleed and swallowing the blood as I forced myself to stop crying. I concentrated hard on breathing more slowly and steadily and as I did, as I went on tasting blood, I finally won my battle with tears and slowly I lifted my head and looked up at him.

 

"That's my good boy," he whispered, as he started to wipe the tears from my cheeks, firstly with his fingertips and then with his handkerchief. "That's my beloved rabbit," he added softly, brushing his lips over my cheek before handing me the handkerchief so that I could blow my nose.

 

"You really won't forget me, will you?" I whispered, after he'd taken the handkerchief back from me and pushed it back into his pocket.

 

He shook his head. "No, Bunny, I will not forget you - I promise you. I couldn't forget you. I -" he broke off abruptly and just stared down at me.

 

I saw a somewhat troubled look cross his face and I frowned a little. "Raffles?" I whispered. "Is something wrong? Have I done something wrong?"

 

He shook his head. "No, my rabbit," he said softly, his hand going to my head where he brushed my fringe back before his fingers tangled in my for a moment as he continued to gaze down at me with a look I couldn't understand. Then he gave a small shrug and put both hands on my shoulders. "I love you too much to ever forget you, Bunny," he said, his tone more than a little formal.

 

I stared up at him, my eyes were wide and my mouth was slightly parted. "You love me?" I whispered.

 

He smiled just a little. "Yes, my rabbit," he said, "I'm rather afraid I do. So, now you know." And he bent his head and put his lips on mine for a moment or two before lifting his head at the sound of someone knocking on his door.

 

A FEW HOURS LATER

 

I did not know how I managed it, but after a final protracted kiss in his railway carriage and a repeated promise that he would see me during the Christmas hols, I stood dry-eyed on the platform and waved and waved until the train was out of sight.

 

CHRISTMAS HOLIDAYS

 

Raffles was as good as his word and wrote to me weekly, sometimes more often, starting with the first week of the summer hols. I had been surprised to find a letter by my plate when I had gone down to breakfast and when I recognised Raffles's handwriting I knew I had a smile on my face and felt my heart begin to race just a little.

 

Neither of my parents commented on the letters; I believe both of them, well certainly Mother, were just waiting for the frequency of the letters to decrease and then stop all together. However, by the time we reached a fortnight before we broke up for Christmas they hadn't decreased at all - I do believe Mother was rather surprised to learn that. I believe she was even more surprised when I wrote to her to ask permission to go straight to Raffles's home for a few days once term ended for the Charismas holidays.

 

I confess, not that I would do so to Raffles, that I had been, I still was, a little surprised myself. It was one thing Raffles writing to me each week, even telling me he missed me and was looking forward to seeing me, but quite another for him to actually invite me to stay with his family. The almost five years between us had seemed at times quite vast when we were at school and with he no longer being a school boy and I, it has to be said, still a little immature for my age, it seemed somewhat strange that we could remain friends - certainly the kind that visited one another.

 

I was a little nervous, it had to be said, about visiting Raffles's home. I knew his parents and his much younger sister Alice having met them at Open Days and Founder's Days and they seemed very nice people and I found I became very fond of Alice, which surprised me given she was five years younger than I and I had never liked young girls. However, meeting them and staying with them were quite different things.

 

Nonetheless, I sought and was granted permission to go straight to Raffles's home and was, of course, looking forward to seeing him - even if I did wonder more than once if he had changed and grown up so much that this would be the only time I would get invited to stay with his family and if he would find a reason to decline any invitation to visit me that I might make.

 

Mother had sent, as I expected, a small gift for Mrs. Raffles to thank her for letting me visit and had written more than once in one letter instructing me to be on my best behaviour, not to forget my manners, to be deferential to Raffles's parents, to do what I was told to do, to speak only when they spoke to me, and to thank them for letting me stay - all the things I would have done even had she not written to instruct me to do so, because that is how I had been brought up.

 

I was also more than a little nervous about the journey to Raffles's home, even though he had sent me full instructions of which train to catch and where I had to get off and anything else he thought I might need to know. Thus it was with more than a degree of trepidation that I made my way, along with Ollie and several other boys to the station.

 

However my unease fled totally as when we walked into the station my name was called, and it wasn't just anyone calling my name - it was Raffles himself. He strode towards me, nodding to the boys who milled around the station, his hands in his overcoat pockets, smiling as only he can smile. "Hello, Bunny," he said as he reached me. One of his hands went to my shoulder, the other to my head and he brushed my finger back from my forehead. "I thought that as my term finished before yours that this time I would come and meet you and make sure you didn't get off at the wrong station or something."

 

I beamed up at him and tried hard to stop myself from trembling at the pleasure of seeing him or throwing myself into his arms. His gaze told me quite clearly he knew exactly what I wanted to do and his eyes promised me 'soon'. "Thank you, Raffles," I said a little belatedly and he smiled.

 

His hand slid into my hair and for a moment he tangled it around his fingers. "It's my pleasure, my rabbit," he said, "and next time you'll know exactly what to do."

 

I swallowed hard as I went on smiling up at him; so he did intend there to be a 'next time'. I just hoped by the time my visit was over he hadn't found something in me to make him change his mind. He looked the same, maybe a little more tired than I was used to seeing him, his voice was the same, the way he looked at me was the same, even the way he shot displeased glances at a couple of older boys who made low comments or laughed was the same, and so I dared to hope that he was still the boy to whom I had said goodbye five months earlier.

 

"Well," he said after a moment or two, "the train is in, we had better get on board." He took his hand from my hair and started to turn me around. Then he stopped abruptly and turned back. "Please do forgive me ill manners, Urquhart," he said looking at Ollie and holding his hand out. After a second no more Ollie took his hand and shook it. "It is good to see you again," Raffles said firmly shaking Ollie's hand.

 

I saw Ollie's cheeks become a little pink. "Thank you. It's good to see you too, Raffles. Harry's told me how well you're getting on at Cambridge."

 

"Has he now?" Raffles said and smiled. Ollie nodded. "And how are you enjoying the fifth year?"

 

Ollie shrugged. "It's not too bad, thank you, Raffles."

 

Raffles smiled. "That's a good boy," he said. "Well, I really do have to drag Bunny away or the train will go without us. I hope you have a good hols and Happy Christmas, Urquhart."

 

Ollie smiled. "Happy Christmas, Raffles," he said. "Happy Christmas again, Harry."

 

I smiled. "Happy Christmas, Ollie," I said and let Raffles take my case from my hand and lead me away to the train; he nodded to some of the other boys as we walked past them, but other than that his attention seemed to be firmly affixed on me.

 

 

"That's better," he said a few minutes later as he lifted his head and took his mouth from mine. We were in a first class compartment and Raffles was leaning against the door with me in his arms. "I have missed you, Bunny. I have missed you very much indeed."

 

I felt my cheeks flush a little. "Have you?" I said softly.

 

He nodded. "Yes, my rabbit. I really have. Indeed I believe I missed you somewhat more than I thought I would."

 

I felt my cheeks flush even more. "I've missed you too, Raffles, very much," I added.

 

He smiled, kissed me again, this time fleetingly, before taking my hand and leading me towards the seats. He threw himself down onto one and I sat down next to him, my hand still in his as I just gazed into his eyes.

 

We sat in silence for a few minutes just gazing at one another, holding hands, his other hand in my hair until he took his hand from my hair, squeezed my hand before letting it go and pulled a bar of chocolate from his pocket. "Chocolate?" he said; I nodded. He broke off a piece and handed it to me; I took it, thanked him and ate it - that was something else I'd missed: his chocolate.

 

 

As the train pulled into the station and he stood up and put his overcoat back on and helped on with mine, I said, "I'm really looking forward to seeing your parents and Alice."

 

"Ah," he said, grabbing my case and putting his hand on my shoulder as he ushered me across the compartment and out into the corridor. It was he who got down from the train first and held his hand out to help me.

 

I hadn't spoke since his 'ah' and nor had he, but inside I was beginning worry. Finally, as with his arm around my shoulders, he began to walk, I said softly, "Raffles?"

 

He paused and glanced down at me. "I'm afraid I haven't been completely honest with you, my rabbit."

 

I opened my eyes so wide it hurt. "Raff . . . Raff . . . Raffles," I stammered, now clutching his arm, "have your parents not invited me to stay?"

 

"What?" he smiled and laughed gently. "Oh, my beloved rabbit," he said in his fond tone as he once more brushed my hair from my face. "Of course they have - and they and Alice are looking forward to seeing you too." I breathed a sigh of relief and tried to ignore how foolish my question had been. "It's just that they are away until tomorrow, that is all," he said, once more beginning to walk.

 

"Oh," I managed, not certain what else to say.

 

"Yes, and I didn't tell you because I thought you might feel you had to tell your mother, I know what a good and honest boy you are, and I was rather afraid she might object to you spending the night alone with me and without an adult, other than the servants of course, in the house. That is all."

 

"Oh," I said again not completely certain how I felt. "Do your parents know I'm arriving today?"

 

He nodded. "Oh, yes. Indeed I rather think Mother is quite pleased I shall not be alone," he said his tone a little amused. He stopped again and turned me under his arm, "But you do not need to be afraid, Bunny, I assure you nothing will happen to you - you will be quite safe."

 

I gazed up at him. "I'm not afraid, Raffles," I declared, all hints on the uncertainty I had felt momentarily fleeing as I gazed at him.

 

"That's my good boy," he said, ruffling my hair before once more beginning to walk.

 

LATER THAT NIGHT

 

After telling the parlour maid for the third time that she could assure the cook that we would be quite all right and thus she didn't need to concern herself about our welfare and that yes, the front door was not only locked but also bolted and that yes, he would make sure the fire was completely dead before we went to bed and that yes, he would take care with the lamps, Raffles firmly closed the sitting room door behind her and sat down on the sofa.

 

To my surprise and regret he pulled a cigarette case out, took a cigarette from it and lit it and began to smoked it as he sipped his coffee. He saw me staring at him and gave a light laugh, "Oh, my rabbit, do you still hate the smell so much?" I shrugged; I believed that, with the exception of Ollie, I was the only fifth form boy not to have at least tried a cigarette once. "Ah," he said," and patted my thigh, once again reading my mind. "Rest assured my parents know I smoke in the house. Father gave me permission once I went up to university."

 

"Oh," I said and sighed softly. Then I made a decision, "May I try one?" I asked quickly, before I could change my mind.

 

He widened his eyes and stared at me. "Have you ever tried one before, Bunny?" he asked.

 

I hesitated for no more than a second even as I knew I would be unable to lie to him; I never have been able to do so. I shook my head, "No," I said softly and felt my cheeks flush a little; I knew he had been smoking since he had turned thirteen.

 

He looked at me, put his hand into my hair and tangled it around his fingers, before tugging me a little nearer to him. "Then, no, my rabbit," he said firmly, "you may not try one." And with that he stubbed his half smoked one out.

 

"Why not?" I asked, wondering even as I did so why I was pushing something I really didn't want to do.

 

He smiled at me and tugged me a little nearer to him. "Well, Bunny," he said, "the odds are rather high that it would make you sick and I really would rather you were not unwell, especially if you hadn't recovered by tomorrow and thus I had to attempt to find a reason, other than I had given you a cigarette, to explain to Mother why you were unwell."

 

"Oh," I said; it made sense.

 

"Also," he said softly, his hand once more in my hair, "I rather wondered if you would like to spend the night in my bed?" I stared at him. "Don't be afraid, I wouldn't do anything to you," he said quickly, "well not anything I have not already done. I just rather like the idea of spending the night with you in my arms. But, do not feel you have to say yes, Bunny," he added quickly.

 

I smiled at him. "Yes, please, Raffles!" I exclaimed excitedly.

 

He stared at me. "Are you quite certain, Bunny? You are not just saying yes because I suggested it are you? And because you know it's what I would like? You do know you may say no, do you not? You know I will not be angry with you, or upset if you do say no? You know that you saying no will not change anything. You do know that, don't you, my rabbit?"

 

And I did. Not only did his eyes and the tone of his voice tell me that was so, but I knew my Raffles. I nodded. "Yes, Raffles," I said, "I do know; really I do. And no, I'm not just saying yes because you suggested it; I want to; I really want to - I wanted to spend your last night at the school with you." I said the final words softly.

 

He smiled and I felt his lips brush the top of my head. "Yes, I do remember that you wanted that, Bunny, and as I told you at the time I would have liked nothing more. But we both know it was quite impossible."

 

I was now close enough to him to rest my head on his shoulder, which I did and we sat there with him playing with my hair for a short time before he said softly, "My rabbit?"

 

"Yes, Raffles?"

 

"Why did you ask me if you might try a cigarette? You didn't really want to, did you?"

 

I was silent for a moment before I lifted my head and looked at him. "No," I said softly.

 

"Then why did you ask?" I sighed and looked away from him, lowering my head and staring at my lap. I wasn't in the least surprised when I felt his fingers under my chin and my head was pushed gently upwards. "Bunny?"

 

I sighed again. "I didn't want you to think . . . Well, that I'm just a . . . Raffles you are at university and I'm still a school boy."

 

He frowned a little. "I am quite aware of that, my rabbit. What has that got to do with you asking to try a cigarette you didn't want?"

 

I swallowed hard. "I didn't want you to think I was just a child," I said quickly, feeling my cheeks burn.

 

He shook his head fondly and gathered me closer to him, actually pulling me onto his lap. "Oh, my dear Bunny, my most beloved rabbit, I don't think that," he murmured. "I promise you I don't think that." When he'd pulled me onto his lap my head had gone to its customary place onto his shoulder, but now he gentle tugged my hair and pulled my head up. He gazed at me in silence for several seconds before he took my face between his hands and put his lips on mine and kissed me.

 

The kiss was fairly brief, but I moaned softly with the beauty of it as I felt my body began to react to his mouth on mine. Far too soon for my liking he took his mouth from mine and gazed at me again in silence for several seconds. "If I thought you were a child, Bunny," he said softly, "do you really think I'd kiss you like I have just done?" Slowly I shook my head. "Good boy," he murmured and then said softly, "and if I thought you a child, do you really believe I'd do this?" And he took one hand from my face and touched me lightly for several seconds.

 

I gasped, feeling myself grow even harder and now desperate for more. I moved on his lap and to my surprise I heard him make a noise and he gripped me firmly. "Sit still, my rabbit," he said firmly, his eyes wide as he took a deep breath as he gazed at me; I felt myself tremble just a little under the intensity of his gaze.

 

Despite how badly I wanted his mouth back on mine and his hands on me and from the look on his face he wanted the same, we sat in the sitting room for another hour or so, watching the fire die down until he finally stood up and pulled me up with him. Carrying a lamp he led me out into the hallway where he checked the front door - twice - before turning down the wall lamps and guiding me upstairs and into his bedroom where he firmly closed the door behind him.

 

The room I had been given was not only next to Raffles's but it was connected to his and it took me only a moment or two to fetch my pyjamas and toothbrush and return to his room where for the first time ever I undressed in front of other boy without trying to keep myself covered up. He then began to undress and very kindly offered no objection to me standing and staring blatantly at him once he'd removed his drawers, indeed he was in no hurry to put his pyjamas on and seemed quite content to let me just stand and stare until I looked up into his face. Even though I had touched him and thus seen him to an extent, it had always been whilst he was clothed; seeing him completely naked was really quite different.

 

I did spend the night in his bed, in his arms, but other than kissing me, touching me and letting me touch him until we both needed to wipe our hands on his handkerchief, nothing else happened. He kept his word to me to do nothing beyond that what we had already done. But then he'd never broken his word to me, so I wasn't surprised.

 

 

He returned with me to my home for three days before returning to his own home for the remainder of the Christmas hols. My parents were very pleased to see him and made him welcome, even if Mother treated him somewhat as if he were still a school boy - not that Raffles gave an indication that he was annoyed by that.

 

Father on the other hand did not, going so far as to, after dinner on Raffles's first evening with us, ask Raffles if that, now that he was up at Cambridge, his father allowed him to smoke in house. Upon learning that Raffles's father did allow him to smoke in the house, my father had offered his cigarette case to Raffles, even going so far as to insist, after Raffles had glanced at my mother, that he take one.

 

A slightly amusing incident occurred on the morning Raffles was due to leave us, as he handed the small gift I had seen his mother give to him just before we had left his home, to my mother and thanked her for inviting him to stay. The amusing thing was that apart from being wrapped in different paper, the gift was exactly the same shape and size as the gift Mother had given me to give to Mrs. Raffles.

 

Raffles continued to write to me at least once a week and I wrote to him and we made plans for the Easter hols where once again I stayed at his home.

 

I believe Mother finally accepted that our friendship was not going to end and that Raffles was still going to write to me and want to spend time with me, because even before I had the chance to ask her if I might Raffles to spend some of the summer at our home, she asked me if I wished to invite him - which of course I did and we made plans.

 

However, I would see him before that as he would return to the school for Old Boys' Day.

 

A WEEK BEFORE OLD BOYS' DAY

 

It was a week before Old Boys' Day and I was really quite excited as I would be seeing Raffles again and not just for one day but for two, and not only that I was seeing him in the place that I regarded as 'ours': the school; our school; the place we had first met; the place I still felt more comfortable in.

 

It wasn't that I hadn't enjoyed the few days I had spent in Raffles's home, both during the Christmas and Easter hols, nor the few days he's spent in mine, I had, of course I had; I had enjoyed every moment of it, I hadn't even minded sharing him with Alice. But the school was our connection - we had spent more time together at the school than we had, thus far, spent apart.

 

I was aware it sounded just a little complicated and confusing and I certainly wouldn't be sharing my strange logic with him - but I really was looking forward to seeing him, despite the fact that we would have far fewer chances to be alone than we'd had in his home or mine and even though I'd be sharing him with multiple boys and not just one younger sister.

 

Ollie had been a little unwell and was in the San and I had promised to visit him that evening, however, before I did so, as I had a project to finish, after supper I went to the library to check up on a particular fact. To my faint surprise I was the only boy there, not that that bothered me it meant that I could check the fact I needed to check and get out again quickly, thus I could spend more time with Ollie. I nodded to the teacher in charge and hurried to the relevant section. It was a little gloomy, the master in charge did not seem to like too much lighting; maybe he feared a boy would knock a lamp over and thus cause damage to the books.

 

I knew exactly on which shelf the book I needed should be on and so hurried along the stacks until I found it. Suddenly to my surprise someone spoke to me. "Hello, Harry."

 

I jumped and dropped the book on the floor, bending down to quickly pick it back up again and I even brushed the sleeve of my blazer over it. "Hello?" I said, quite deliberately making it a question, as I stared at the boy who had addressed me by name. I judged him to be about thirteen; he seemed a little pale and I couldn't quite make out what he was wearing, but as I said the light was very poor.

 

I did not recognise him; certainly he was not a boy from my house so why was he addressing me by name? Indeed, even had I known him why was he, a third year, addressing me, a fifth year by my Christian name? Not that any boy feared me, they did not - despite being a fifth year, all of the third year were taller than I was and most of them seemed far more self assured and confident than I remember being at thirteen - indeed than I was now.

 

He went on staring at me; he was studying me quite intently and I began to feel a little discomforted as I stared back, trying hard to make out quite what he was wearing and wondering why although I knew I did not know him, a small part of me saw something slightly familiar in him. "What do you want?" I asked finally.

 

He put his head on one side a little as he continued to stare at me. "You must make Arthur stay with you," he said.

 

I shook my head. "What? Who?"

 

He smiled; he smiled a smile that touched his eyes and said softly, "Raffles."

 

"Oh," I felt my cheeks begin to grow warm and I was suddenly very glad that the library was so dimly lit. "I don't know what you mean," I said. "When must he stay with me?"

 

"Next week, when he comes back to the school for Old Boys' Day. You must make him stay with you, here in the school, and not go to the village for the night. Promise me, Harry. You must promise me, Harry. You have to - he must stay with you; it's essential for him that he stays with you. Promise me, Harry, please."

 

I just stared at him as he spoke; the intensity in his voice made me shiver just a little, indeed I realised I felt a little chilled in general. The part of the library suddenly seemed not just more dimly lit than the rest, but also quite a lot colder.

 

"Who are you?" I demanded. "And how do you know Raffles?"

 

He did not, however, answer me. Instead he took a step nearer to me and reached out his hand, but he did not touch me. He just let his hand linger in the air between us. "Trust me, Harry," he said softly. "You must trust me. You must make sure Arthur stays with you that night. Promise me you will, Harry. Please."

 

I didn't know what it was; I couldn't explain it, but I felt a level of trust for this unknown boy, this strange unknown boy, I had rarely felt for anyone else. I swallowed hard at the look in his eyes, it was as intense as his voice had been and I nodded. "I promise," I whispered. "I promise I'll make Raffles stay with me. But can't you -"

 

"Manders!"

 

I spun around, almost dropping the book I'd been holding. "Yes, sir, Mr. Davidson, sir?"

 

"What are you doing?"

 

"Looking for a book, sir. I need to check a fact, sir. It's for my project, sir."

 

He stared at me. "And to whom were you just talking?"

 

I answered before I even thought about it. "Er, I wasn't, sir, I was reading something from the book, sir." I mentally crossed my fingers as he went on staring at me.

 

To my surprise, he nodded and the fierce look that had been on his face faded a little. "I used to find that too, Manders."

 

"Sir?"

 

"Reading something aloud makes it stick in the mind more than just reading it silently."

 

"Oh, yes, sir," I said hurriedly.

 

"Very well, then. Do you wish to take the book with you?"

 

Did I? Yes, I did given I hadn't actually checked the fact I needed to check. "Er, yes please, sir; if that would be all right, sir?" Which may sound a strange question given it was a library and books are meant to be borrowed. However, Mr. Davidson did not seem to care to allow most boys to actually take the books out of library - indeed he didn't seem very keen on even letting boys read them in the library, or, come to think of it, even touch them.

 

However, he nodded and even gave me a half smile. "Of course it will be, Manders. You know how to treat a book; you respect them; you do not deface them or lose them or leave them just lying about. You are always welcome to take books out of this library."

 

I swallowed; it really was rather pleasant to get praise from a master. "Thank you, sir. And I promise I will take good care of it, sir."

 

He smiled again and even patted my shoulder. "I know you will, Manders. I know you will." And with his hand on my shoulder he led me to the front of the library where he duly checked the book out for me.

 

I held the book carefully as I hurried down to the San where I spent half an hour with Ollie before I returned to the house where I allowed myself to think of the incident with the strange boy in the library and of the promise I had made and quite how I was going to keep it.

 

OLD BOYS' DAY

 

The day had arrived and I still hadn't worked out how I was going to keep my promise to the unknown boy - the unknown boy whom, despite going to the library every evening, I hadn't seen again. I almost began to wonder if it had all been a dream or if I had imagined it all, imagined the boy, imagined him urging me to make certain Raffles spent the night with me at the school. But every time I decided it must have been a dream or just my imagination, the image of the boy flared up in my mind and I again heard the intensity of his voice and saw the desperation in his stare and I knew I hadn't been dreaming nor had I imagined the whole thing. I had met a strange, unknown boy in the library and he had made me promise him that I would ensure Raffles spent the night of Old Boys' Day with me at the school. The incident had happened.

 

Our Old Boys' Day is somewhat different from most public schools Old Boys' Day as in the first instance it is strictly speaking two days - a weekend to be exact - and it is only for old boys; no one else is allowed, not parents or brothers or even wives, just the old boys. They arrived at various times on the Saturday, those who had arrived in time joined us for lunch, tea and supper and they would then spend the night in the village before the cricket match on the Sunday after which they'd go home. And somehow amidst all of this I had to make sure Raffles did not go to the village to spend the night - I honestly had no idea how I was going to achieve that and even if he did agree to stay where he could spend the night.

 

There were only lessons up to morning break, so once I'd returned my books, paper and pens to the dorm I, along with Ollie, went to the fifth year common room to wait for Raffles and Charleston who were going to travel together to arrive. The mood in the room was one of excitement and anticipation, even boys who weren't expecting anyone in particular were happy in effect to have a free weekend.

 

It wasn't that long, maybe half an hour if that, before we heard voices in the hall and I was quite certain one of the voices was Raffles's. Seconds later I was proven correct as Raffles himself opened the door and with Charleston by his side and several other boys, some of whom I recognised, some I didn't but who had to have been from our house, came in.

 

Most of the boys, including Ollie and myself, flocked around Raffles and Charleston; it wasn't just that they had been the two best cricket players in our house and on the eleven, but also because they had been the two kindest, nicest, most respected boys of their year and everyone wanted to know how they were and what life at university was like. Carter was one of the other boys who had arrived with Raffles and Charleston and he headed straight for his younger brother, who was now Carter Major, their other brother having now joined the school and together they left, I assumed to go to the third year common room to find the now Carter Minor.

 

I think Charleston was a little over-whelmed by the enthusiasm with which he was greeted. He had  always been quite content to stay in the shadow of Raffles and let him accept the plaudits and whilst he was, just like Raffles, always kind to the younger boys and never raised his voice or hand to any, he had never had quite Raffles's natural way of interacting with us, and he never seemed to enjoy the attention given to the eleven as much as Raffles and some of the other players did.

 

Raffles of course was - Raffles. He talked to the boys, answered their questions, laughed with them, asked about the current house and school elevens, gently chastised just a little when the boys were more than a little disrespectful of the current captain (even though I happen to know that he agreed with their opinions) and generally made it clear he was quite happy to be back at the school.

 

I stood by his side, his hand on my shoulder where it had found its way the moment he had got near to me, and just listened and took pleasure in him being there. Most of what he was telling the boys I already knew, given our weekly letters and time spent with him during the Christmas and Easter hols - in fact I was more interested in what Charleston was telling Ollie and Gunther about his studies at Oxford.

 

Finally the bell for lunch went and with Raffles's hand still on my shoulder we walked to the dining hall. Old Boys' Day is one of the few occasions when the house and year system is allowed to be more flexible, and thus boys from different years and houses can sit with boys who are not from their own house. There were additional tables to accommodate the extra older boys and men, but certainly most recently left old boys tended to sit with their old houses. Thus Raffles and Charleston joined Ollie and me at the fifth form house table as did the Carter brothers, even though I could see that Carter Minor felt more than a little uneasy sitting with fifth form boys - but he was sitting between his older brothers, so I think he was happy enough.

 

LATER THAT EVENING

 

It was after supper, about two hours before the visiting old boys would leave to go to the village and I still hadn't thought of a way to persuade Raffles he had to spend the night in the school - indeed the more I thought about it, the more impossible it had seemed. Apart from a few minuets when he'd all but dragged me into an empty classroom and kissed me soundly, we hadn't spent any time alone; Charleston and Ollie were always with us and from time to time other boys, both those still at the school who had been on the eleven and those who had left the school before Raffles and Charleston but knew them, joined us as well.

 

Even as I considered the question of how I firstly got Raffles alone for long enough to tell him he had to stay and secondly what reason I was going to give to convince him, I found myself intrigued by how well Charleston and Ollie seemed to be getting along. Of course with Charleston being Raffles's best friend and Ollie being mine they had spent more time together than any other sixth former and younger boy who wasn't his fag would have ever spent together. However, Ollie had been quite tongue tied around both Raffles and Charleston and with Charleston being somewhat more reticent and not quite having Raffles's natural ability of talking to younger boys, they wouldn't have talked a great deal.

 

However, now they seemed quite relaxed, Ollie was laughing at something Charleston had said and something in turn he said to Charleston made Charleston flush a little, so I assumed it was some kind of compliment. I even saw Charleston hand Ollie a small card and saw Ollie smile and nod - I guessed it was Charleston's address at Oxford and he was inviting Ollie to write to him.

 

I saw that I wasn't alone in noticing the exchange and also in how well Charleston and Ollie seemed to be getting along - but then Raffles rarely missed anything, especially when it involved a boy of whom he was fond and he was very fond of Charleston.

 

Time was moving on and still we sat in the common room; still I hadn't found a way of getting Raffles on his own and I still couldn't think of how to achieve that - I'd deal with telling him he had to stay overnight at the school once I had him alone.

 

Suddenly Raffles stood up and stretched. "I think I shall go for a walk around the grounds before we go back to the village," he said, glancing at Charleston. "Are you going to come with me, Bunny?"

 

I smiled and stood up from where I'd been sitting on the floor. "Yes, please," I said, mentally crossing my fingers and hoping that neither Charleston or Ollie or any other boy suggested they might like to come with us. Charleston merely smiled at Raffles and gave him a look which made me fairly certain Charleston believed a walk wasn't really the reason for which Raffles wished to leave the common room. Raffles held the look and just smiled before he put his arm around my shoulders and led me out of the common room.

 

His arm still around my shoulders we walked along the hall and out into the quad where he turned and headed for the cricket pitches which were situated next to a rather secluded wooded area.

 

 

"That's better," he murmured some twenty minutes later as he lifted his head from mine and brushed my hair from my forehead. "I do believe I miss you more each day, Bunny," he said, dropping to the ground and tugging me down with him where I settled down with my head in his lap and gazed up at him.

 

I didn't really know what to say to him; it was one of those occasions when the almost five years that separated us in age seemed like a life time, and with him now at university and I still a school boy, the gulf occasionally seemed unbreachable. He was gazing down at me as the tip of one finger stroked my cheekbone and his other hand tangled in my hair. "I miss you too, Raffles," I managed. "Very much," I added. He bent over me and kissed me lightly.

 

He sighed softly. "Let us hope the next two years go by quickly," he said his tone and his look now somewhat solemn. "And then . . ." he trailed off and just continued to stroke my cheek before letting his finger slide down and outline my lips and brush over my lower lip.

 

As his finger touched my lip my mouth parted, just as it did when he touched my lips with his tongue and I dared to lick his finger before smiling and saying softly, "And then . . . ? What will happen when you leave university and I leave school, Raffles?"

 

For a moment he simply stared down at me his finger still on my lips. I couldn't read his expression; I just knew I'd never seen him look at me quite in the way he was looking at me. I felt - I wasn't sure what I felt, I just know I shifted slightly, my head brushing against him as he made a soft noise in his throat and stilled his finger on my lips. "I don't know exactly what will happen, my rabbit," he said softly. "I just know it will involve us being together somewhere."

 

I felt my eyes widen as I stared up at him. "Raffles?" I whispered. "Do you . . . Do you really mean that?"

 

He gazed at me and was silent for a moment or two before saying softly, "Yes, my dear Bunny, I do. I really do." I wasn't certain if I was imagining it, but I thought he sounded almost a little surprised at his own words.

 

As I laid there, my head quite comfortable in his lap, I could feel he was slightly hard beneath my head. I longed to touch him, but as much as I would have liked to have done so and no matter how secluded the wooded area was, it was far too much of a risk.

 

Instead I decided I had to broach the subject of him remaining at the school overnight. I still hadn't thought of what to say of how I could persuade him and so I decided to simply be honest. "Raffles?"

 

He was once more stroking my cheek with one finger and his other hand was caressing my head. "My rabbit?"

 

I swallowed hard and said in a rush. "You have to stay here tonight, at the school," I added swiftly.

 

He frowned and shook his head. "Ah, my rabbit, you know I cannot do that," he spoke softly, but his tone was firm. It was the tone he had only used a handful of time during my two years as his fag, but it was a tone I had never argued with - until now.

 

"You have to, Raffles," I said sitting up and turning around to look at him.

 

He frowned again. "Bunny, I -"

 

I dared to interrupt him. "If you don't stay here with me, something will happen to you," I said in a rush.

 

"My dear Bunny, I am sharing a room with Charlie. Unless you believe he is suddenly going to turn into a homicidal maniac, I assure you nothing will happen to me." Now he was smiling and his tone contained more than a hint of humour.

 

I frowned; how dare he laugh at me? I grabbed his hand. "You have to stay. You have to. I promised." I fell silent and stared at him. "Please, Raffles," I whispered hating the fact that my voice was now shaking and tears were burning my eyes.

 

It was he who moved, closing the small gap between us, putting his arm around me and pulling me against him. "Whom did you promise, Bunny?" he said softly. "And why?"

 

I let my head rest on his shoulder and sat in silence enjoying the feel of his arm around me and taking comfort from the warmth of his body pressed against mine. I had to tell him the truth. "There was a boy," I said, "in the library."

 

"A boy? That's not exactly unusual, is it, my rabbit?"

 

"You don't understand."

 

"Then tell me."

 

I sighed. "One evening just over a week ago I went to the library and he was there. He knew my name, Raffles, and he knew yours - he called you 'Arthur'." I raised my head and looked at him, he was staring at me, a slight frown creased his forehead and he gave me a tiny smile, encouraging me to go on. "He wasn't a boy from this school, Raffles. He was about thirteen and there was something about him that was familiar, but I didn't know him. He told me I had to make you stay here at the school tonight. He was most insistent and I . . . I ended up promising him I would make you stay. I'm sure if you go something awful will happen to you," I whispered the final words.

 

He continued to gaze at me then he brushed my fringe back from my forehead, kissed me lightly and once more pulled me back against him. "My rabbit, is it not more likely you simply remembered a vivid dream?"

 

I shook my head where it once more rested on his shoulder. "No, Raffles," I said firmly, "it wasn't a dream. He was in the library. I saw him. I spoke to him. He knew me and he knew you. And I promised him you would stay."

 

He fell silent and then said quietly, "But how could this boy whom you say isn't a member of the school be in the library, my rabbit? And how could a third year boy know of me when I am no longer at the school?"

 

"I don't know, Raffles," I said. "I just know what I saw and heard." And then something came to me. I again lifted my head and moved back far enough so that I could look at him. "Do you think that . . . Well, that he could have been a . . . A . . . A ghost?"

 

He smiled a little. "Do you believe in ghosts, Bunny?"

 

I shrugged. "I don't know," I said after a fairly long silence. "Do you?"

 

He too was silent for quite some time before he again pulled me back against him and said his tone solemn, "I really do not know either, my rabbit. I do not think I do, but . . ." Then he kissed my head and stood up, pulling me to his feet along with him, he took my hand, "Come along," he said.

 

"Where are we going, Raffles?"

 

He hesitated for a second then said softly, "The library."

 

Once we reached the edge of the wooded area he let go of my hand and once more put his arm around my shoulders as we made our way to the library. It was however locked, which when I thought about it didn't surprise me as Mr. Davidson wouldn't have wanted to encourage the old boys to wander inside. I truly believed that if he could he would keep it locked at all times so that no boy could go inside and look at or touch the books.

 

I sighed and stared at Raffles who gazed down at me; he seemed to be considering something. Then with a faint sigh of his own he put his hand into his pocket, pulled something out, glanced around him, and fiddled with the lock on the door; in seconds it opened. "Raffles!" I gasped.

 

He gave me a half shrug, once more took my hand and led me inside, shutting the door carefully behind us. The library had large windows and even though most of them were at least party covered by tall bookcases, the daylight still filtered in and the room although a little gloomy was quite well lit.

 

"Hello, Arthur," a voice I instantly recognised said. "I wondered if well I rather hoped that, Harry would bring you to see me."

 

Raffles had stopped dead at the sound of the voice and now turned around slowly. He was still holding my hand and his grip became tighter and tighter, so tight it was almost becoming painful. I glanced up at him and saw he had turned pale, his eyes were wide, his lips slightly parted as he stared at the boy who sat on the edge of one of the tables.

 

Suddenly he gripped my shoulder with his other hand and I felt him tremble a little. "Albert?" he finally whispered. "Is it . . . Is it really you Albert?"

 

The boy smiled and nodded. "Yes, Arthur," he said softly. "It really is I."

 

"But you're . . ." Raffles apparently was incapable of finishing his sentence. And as I turned from looking at him to looking at the boy I knew just why he had seemed familiar even though I'd never seen him before. Albert was, had been, Raffles's younger brother; he and I had been of an age when he had died. He had never been a well boy, neither physically nor mentally and I gathered that in many ways his death had been a blessing for the whole family. However, Raffles had adored and loved his younger brother and had been the one person capable of calming him when he had become upset and difficult to handle.

 

"Quite well," Albert said after it became clear Raffles wasn't going to complete his sentence. "Yes, I am, Arthur. It is one of the benefits, shall we say of . . . Of where I am."

 

Raffles was shaking his head. "But you can't be here . . . Can you?"

 

Albert smiled and stood up. "Why not?" he asked softly, then he said, his voice very low, "I promise you, Arthur, you are not asleep nor are you imagining me." Raffles still just stared at him, still just gripped my hand and shoulder so tightly I felt certain I would bruise. "And now, Arthur, you must do as Harry told you and stay with him tonight."

 

Raffles shook his head. "I can't, Albert. It isnít possible. I could -"

 

"You have to stay with Harry."

 

"But why?"

 

"Because on the day you met him and took him as yours you made him a promise: a promise to keep him safe. And unless that promise ended when you left the school, you are still bound by it. Did it end when you left the school?"

 

"No, of course it didnít!"

 

Albert smiled a little. "In that case you have to stay with him."

 

"But why?"

 

Albert sighed and glanced at me. "Because, Arthur, if you do not stay with Harry and keep him safe he will," he paused for a moment and looked back at his brother. "He will die."

 

I gasped. "But I thought from what you said that it was Raffles who was in danger."

 

Albert gave me a somewhat rueful smile. "I am sorry, Harry. I could not tell you the truth. I didn't lie to you; I merely let you believe it was Raffles who was in danger. I am sorry," he said again, "but we are not allowed to tell the person who is in danger that they are in danger."

 

He looked back at his brother. "Well?" he said firmly, "are you going to promise me that you will stay with Harry, Arthur? Stay with him and keep him safe - as you promised to do on that day in September?"

 

Raffles tugged me nearer to him as he stared at Albert. "Of course I'll stay. But where?"

 

"The one place, the only place, at the school where Harry would always be safe," Albert said. Raffles frowned and opened his mouth. "That is all I may tell you, Arthur. The place he would always be safe," he repeated. "Do you promise?"

 

Raffles nodded. "Yes, Albert, I promise."

 

A full smile appeared on Albert's face. "Good," he said. He was silent for a moment before he asked softly, "How are Mama and Papa?"

 

Raffles smiled softly. "They are well."

 

Albert nodded and his smile increased. "And Alice?" he asked.

 

"Adorable and annoying in equal measures."

 

"Has she finally stopped blaming herself?"

 

Raffles nodded slowly. "Yes. Yes, Albert, she has."

 

"Good. I'm glad." Then he said quietly, "Poor Alice."

 

"Albert?" Raffles's tone was very slightly sharp.

 

Albert started and I got the distinct impression he'd said more than he should have said. He looked around him. "Just love her," he said firmly. He then smiled and looked at me and back at Raffles and said quietly, "But also be just a little careful. I believe you are not the only person who sees Harry as belonging to them; who loves Harry," he added.

 

Raffles frowned. "Albert, I -"

 

"And now, Arthur, I really have to go." He took a step towards Raffles and then another and another and looked at me and then back at his brother. "You will be happy," he said. "Just don't ever forget your promise." And then . . . And then he simply wasn't there.

 

Raffles just stood, frozen to the spot, staring into the empty room. "Albert?" he whispered. But no reply came. I continued to stand where I was, pressed against him, his arm still around me, his hand still holding mine. I didn't know what to say or to think or even if to believe what I believed I had just seen and heard.

 

We just stood there for at least a minute, before Raffles shook himself, turned me under his arm, stared down at me and said firmly, "I shall have to think what to tell Charlie." I just went on looking at him. "He'll be waiting for me. I have to tell him something as to why I shall not be returning to the village and spending the night with him."

 

"You are going to stay?" I asked softly.

 

"Of course I am, Bunny. Of course I am. I promised. Now, let us go back to the house before Dobson locks up for the night."

 

When we reached the house Charleston was standing outside, leaning against the wall, his hands in his pockets. "There you are, A. J.," he said with a smile, "I was about to come and look for you. Are you ready?" And without waiting for Raffles to reply, he turned to me, took one hand from his pocket and squeezed my shoulder. "I'll say goodnight, Manders, sleep well."

 

Raffles glanced at me and then at Charleston. "Charlie," he said, his tone was just a little hesitant. Charleston clearly heard it to as he turned his full attention on Raffles. "I have to stay here tonight," Raffle said softly.

 

"A. J.!" Charleston exclaimed with more than a hint of shock, surprise and even irritation in his tone. "You can't. I mean -" He fell silent and looked at me and frowned.

 

Raffles shook his head and put his hand on Charleston's arm. "No, Charlie," he said softly as he stared into Charleston's eyes, "it's not that. I wouldn't. You have to believe me, Charlie. And trust me," he added.

 

They fell silent and just stared at one another. Over the two years we'd all been at school together I had seen them have quite a few silent conversations, most often on the cricket field, but I had also seen it at other times too in Raffles's study.

 

Charleston sighed softly and said, "Why then?"

 

Raffles glanced at me and back at Charleston. "Because of a promise I made on the day I took Bunny as my fag." Charleston frowned. "To keep him safe," Raffles said softly.

 

Once more they fell silent and just stared at one another. I tried hard not to fidget as I stood by their sides, uninvolved in the conversation, although central to it.

 

Finally Charleston sighed again and put his hand on Raffles's which still rested on his arm. "Oh, very well, A. J.," he said, once more glancing at me before looking back at Raffles again. "I'll cover for you."

 

"Thank you, Charlie," Raffles said, his tone heavy with affection. "You know you really are the best friend a boy could have."

 

Charleston's cheeks became a little flushed and he let his gaze flicker away from Raffles for a moment. "Just promise me you'll take care, A. J.," he said.

 

"I always do. Well," Raffles went on hastily as Charleston stared wide-eyed at him. "I . . . I promise, Charlie."

 

Charleston squeezed Raffles's hand again and then to my surprise (I was surprised because I believed he blamed me) he put his hand back on my shoulder and squeezed it for a moment. "You take care too, Harry," he said softly. I just nodded and again tried not to fidget.

 

"I'll see you in the morning," Charleston said, taking his hand from my shoulder and from Raffles's hand.

 

Raffles nodded and Charleston turned to go. "Charlie?"

 

"Yes, A. J.?"

 

"Where would you say Bunny had always been safe - here at the school I mean?"

 

Charleston frowned for a split second then shrugged and said, "Your study. It was the only place in the school you knew he would always be safe."

 

"Of course!" Raffles exclaimed and smiled. "Thank you, Charlie," he said. Charleston nodded, hesitated for a moment or two, glanced at me and then back at Raffles before nodding again and striding off. "My study," Raffles said staring after Charleston. "But how - I mean it isn't possible."

 

"It is, Raffles."

 

"Bunny?"

 

"Didn't I tell you?"

 

"Tell me what, my rabbit?" he asked, putting his arm around my shoulders and staring down at me.

 

"Well, several boys wanted your study, it being yours and all, but every time one of them was given it they didn't want to keep it. They said it felt strange or something. So it's been empty since October."

 

Raffles continued to gaze down at me. "Has it now?" he said softly. "Surely he couldn't . . ." I just stood and waited for him to speak or to move. "Well, come along then," he said briskly, turning me and leading me into the house. "My study it is."

 

We reached the door of what had been his study without meeting anyone. "Are you going to use whatever it was you used to open the library door?" I asked.

 

To my surprise he flushed a little. "Er, there's no need, Bunny. You see," he said, putting his hand into his pocket and pulling something out. "I'm afraid I forget to hand my key in when I left." He showed me what he was holding, before glancing around him, putting it into the lock, opening the door and guiding me inside. He followed me in, closed the door and firmly locked it behind us. "Well," he said, moving to turn one of the gas lamps up. "What now?"

 

To my surprise the room didn't feel like a room that had stood empty for some seven months, it felt as it had always felt during Raffles's time at the school. "Are we going to spend the night here?" I asked softly.

 

He brushed my hair back from my forehead and nodded. "Yes, Bunny, we are. This is the place I am quite certain Albert meant. Now, let us sit down." He glanced at the sofa and then at the arm chair and smiled. "Yes, the chair I think." The next second he was sitting in the chair and I was on his lap, my head on his shoulder just as we often used to sit during the two years he was at the school.

 

And that is how we spent the night. We kissed a couple of times, but for the most part we just sat cuddled up together, his hand would find its way into my hair at times, just as it had always done and I closed my eyes and even slept, I believe, for a few minutes at a time. He held me, as he'd always done, possessively, protectively and affectionately. We talked a little, but we'd never needed to fill every moment with chatter, so again for the most part we sat in silence. I believe he held me a little tighter, a little more protectively, a little more possessively than he held me during his time at the school. I was more than happy to simply sit being held so securely with my head on his shoulder - I'd always loved resting my head on his shoulder.

 

Half an hour before even the earliest risers would be waking up, he took me to the sixth form facilities where we both advantage of them before leading me back to his study. He smoothed my hair down for me and gathered me back into his arms.

 

Suddenly we heard cries and exclamations of shock and boys talking at once. They were fairly muted, thus it was clear they weren't coming from the other sixth form studies - but the shock was clear. "We had better go and see what is amiss, Bunny," he said softly and with his arm around my shoulders led me out of his study and along the hallways to the fifth form dorm. As we walked the voices and cries got louder and his hand tightened just a little as it rested on my shoulder.

 

Before we reached it we saw boys still dressed in their pyjamas some in dressing gowns, but most not, outside the dorm; some were holding onto one another and Ollie seemed to be crying. I was about to hurry towards him when he looked up. "Harry!" he cried and he ran towards me and threw his arms around me. Now unlike myself Ollie had grown quite a bit during his years at the school and had it not been for Raffles supporting both of us, I had no doubt we would have ended up on the floor as I would not have managed to withstand his fierce embrace.

 

Tears still falling from his eyes he pulled himself away from me and flung himself into Raffles's arms. "Oh, Raffles, you stayed. You stayed with Harry. Thank you. Thank you."

 

By now the rest of the dorm had crowded around us and they were all talking at once. I could see more than one very pale face and I even thought I saw more than one boy wiping his hand over his eyes. Raffles had put his arms around Ollie and was holding him in a loose embrace and talking soothingly to him.

 

"What has happened, Ollie?" he asked softly, finally gently pushing Ollie away from him and looking down at him. Then he dipped one hand into his pocket and pulled out a handkerchief and handed it to Ollie.

 

"Thank you," Ollie said taking it and wiping his eyes. "I'll show you." He led us, still surrounded by the rest of the boys, into the dorm and to my bed.

 

I stared in utter shock and began to shake, I was very glad Raffles had insisted on us visiting the facilities when he did. I clung to him and felt his arm around me holding me tightly, steadying me as he too stared in horror at my bed - well what was left of my bed. As he held me I realised I wasn't the only one who was shaking.

 

A large piece of the moulding from the ceiling had fallen down onto my bed. How it had happened and how it had happened so silently I knew not; I only knew one thing: if I had been in the bed I would have been crushed to death.

 

"What made you stay with Harry, Raffles?" Ollie asked, gazing up at Raffles.

 

"That isn't quite the question I would like to be answered." It was Dobson. After several horrified gasps the boys fell silent. I stood still staring at my bed wondering what was going to happen next. Slowly, his arm still around my shoulders Raffles turned me around and met Dobson's angry gaze. "Give me one good reason why I should not expel Manders and write to the Master of your university and suggest he sends you down, Raffles." Once more the boys gasped and all of them turned to look at Raffles.

 

I waited, daring to look up at Raffles who still met Dobson's gaze. He opened his mouth, but before he could speak, another voice silenced him. "I can give you two, Mr. Dobson." Charleston, his hands in his pockets came out of the shadows where he must have been standing and walked towards us. He glanced briefly at Raffles and me before looking back at Dobson who seemed stunned by the interruption.

 

"And what exactly would they be, Charleston?"

 

"Well, sir, I would have thought you would be relieved that you haven't got to tell Mr. and Mrs. Manders that their only son died whilst in your care." I felt my mouth fall open as I just stared at Charleston. Raffles's hand tightened on my shoulder and I knew he was also staring at Charleston; around us were the sounds of boys trying not to gasp too loudly. Charleston went on, "And secondly, if you expel Manders and write to the authorities at Raffles's university, you will have to expel several other boys in this house, and speak to the house masters of the other houses about the old boys who stayed with the current boys last night. You will also have to write more than one letter to the authorities at both Oxford and Cambridge about the behaviour of old boys of this school - including mine."

 

Raffles's hand tightened even more on my shoulder and this time the boys didn't try to hide the gasps they made. I still stood frozen to the spot staring at Charleston; I really was not completely certain that I wasn't asleep and dreaming.

 

"You, Charleston?" Dobson sounded as surprised as I felt.

 

For the first time since he had made his presence in the dorm known, Charleston glanced away from Dobson and looked at Raffles. "Yes, sir. You see, Mr. Dobson, I too spent the night in the school. In fact I spent it with Raffles and Manders in Raffles's old study and I can attest to the fact that nothing improper, shall we say, happened between Raffles and Manders - if that was what you were worried about, sir."

 

I forced myself not to look at Raffles or even to show surprise at Charleston's announcement that he had spent the night with Raffles and me. Even though I was standing there and had heard what he had said, I found it so difficult to believe I had heard it. Charleston had lied and done so blatantly; Charleston the boy for whom rules mattered; the boy whom all the masters liked because he was such a good student, such a good boy; the boy whom I believe would have been head boy were it not for his position on the eleven. This was the boy who just now had stood in front of his old house master and had lied.

 

Dobson was just staring at Charleston, studying him carefully. I rather thought he was disinclined to believe what he had been told, yet at the same time he was inclined to believe it because it was Charleston who said it. After a moment of continuing to stare at Charleston Dobson turned to look at Raffles. "Why did you stay here, Raffles. And," he said, now glancing swiftly back at Charleston, "this time, Charleston, I would like Raffles to answer for himself."

 

Now I did risk looking up at Raffles and saw his gaze flicker from Dobson to Charleston and back again. "May I ask you a question first, sir?" Dobson frowned and looked irritated, but nonetheless nodded. "Do you believe that promises have a time limitation on them, sir?"

 

I don't know what Dobson had been expecting, but from the look on his face it wasn't what Raffles asked. He frowned as he continued to stare at Raffles in silence. Finally, he shrugged and shook his head. "No, of course I do not. But I do not see what that has to do with anything."

 

I was still looking up at Raffles and saw him moisten his lips. "Well, sir, I'm afraid it does, sir. You see, on Manders's first day here I made him a promise to keep him safe. And that, sir, is why I stayed here at the school in my old study with Manders and Charleston last night."

 

Dobson went on staring at him. "You had reason to believe that something was going to happen to Manders?" He glanced at me and Raffles squeezed my shoulder.

 

"Yes, sir," he said quietly, "I did."

 

Dobson sighed. "And the reason you did not come to me and tell me that you believed this was what exactly? You may have left the school, Raffles, but Manders is still a pupil here and I am still his house master, thus he is still my responsibility."

 

Raffles nodded. "Yes, sir," he said. "I know that, sir." He fell silent. All around us the boys were standing in silence, following the conversation, just waiting to see what would happen next. I waited for Dobson to insist on Raffles answering his question.

 

However, after shaking his head and casting Raffles a look far sterner than I had ever seen him give any boy, he once more looked at Charleston who again met the steely gaze and held it. Then to my surprise Dobson sighed and glanced at me; just for a fleeting second I saw his gaze soften and I believed he was telling me he was indeed glad I was alive and that he wouldn't have to tell my parents I was dead.

 

He then turned back to Charleston. "I have something important to do in my study; I shall be no more than twenty minutes. When I return I shall do a thorough, thorough note, search of the house. Any old boy found will be told to leave the school immediately and will not be permitted to return ever again. If he is at university, I shall indeed write to the authorities about his conduct and any boy from the house with whom he is found will indeed be expelled. Do you understand me, Charleston?"

 

Charleston straightened up a little and nodded. "Yes, sir," he said firmly. "Is there anything else I can do, sir?"

 

To my surprise Dobson once more glanced at Raffles and then back at Charleston. "As a matter of fact," he said, "there is, there is something you can both do. Make certain you win the match between the old boys and the current eleven." And with those words he turned on his heel and strode out of the dorm.

 

Apart from gasping at his parting words, the boys still all stood in silence, just staring, many of them open-mouthed, after him. Charleston and Raffles locked gazes and I watched them have one of their silent conversations. Then Raffles smiled and said lightly, "Well, we had better do that thing, had we not, Charlie?"

 

Charleston returned his smile and nodded. "We had indeed, A. J." Then he turned around and called, "Come along, boys, it's time you started getting washed and dressed." It was as if he was still at the school as not one boy hesitated, instead they all hurried back to their lockers, got their washing kit and pushing one another hurried from the dorm. "You too, Harry," Charleston said firmly. "And we had better go, A. J."

 

Raffles put his hand on Charleston's arm whilst keeping his hand on my shoulder holding me in place. "Just a minute, Charlie, why did you stay here?"

 

Charleston sighed and looked away for a moment then he sighed again and looked back at Raffles, holding his gaze. "I was thinking about doing so anyway," he said quietly. "I don't know why, but I got a strong feeling my presence here over-night would be beneficial. And then," he paused, glanced at me and then back at Raffles. He put his hand over the one Raffles had on his arm and spoke again, his tone low, "I went past the library."

 

Raffles's hand tightened so much on my shoulder that I had to bite my lip to stop myself from gasping with pain. I looked at Raffles who had turned pale as he stared at Charleston. "Did you . . . Did you see . . ."

 

Charleston closed his hand around Raffles's and held it. "Yes, A. J., I did. He recognised me, just as I recognised him. He told me you would need my help in the morning and asked me to stay here at the school over-night. I told him I would. I asked him where you were and he said 'in the one place Harry had always been safe'; thus, I knew you were both in your old study."

 

"Where did you spend the night?" Raffles's voice was low and I saw he was gripping Charleston's hand very tightly.

 

Charleston glanced over his shoulder. "In the fifth form common room," he said quietly. "Then when I heard the boys moving I came to the dorm, saw what had happened and waited in the shadows for Dobson to arrive, as I knew he would."

 

Raffles seemed lost for words and just went on gripping Charleston's arm and my shoulder. Finally he said, "'Thank you, Charlie', seems such an inadequate thing to say. But thank you, Charlie. You really are the best friend a boy could ever have or want to have." Charleston flushed slightly at the words and for a moment let his gaze flicker away.

 

"Yes, thank you, Charleston," I said quietly, looking up at him.

 

He smiled and put his other hand on the shoulder Raffles wasn't gripping. "You're welcome, Harry," he said, leaving his hand on my shoulder for a moment before taking it away and saying, "and now you really should get washed and changed."

 

I nodded. "Yes, Charleston," I said. However, given Raffles was still holding my other shoulder I didn't move.

 

It was Charleston who, still holding Raffles's hand, moved, gently pulling Raffles away towards the door. "Come along, A. J., we had better get back to our room in the village and bathe and change for the cricket match - oh, and find the other old boys and warn them."

 

"Very well, Charlie," Raffles said, letting Charleston pull him away - not that he'd have found it easy not to go, Charleston is stronger than Raffles as well as being a little taller. He gazed back at me and smiled in his fond way, "I shall see you later, Bunny," he said.

 

 

As he was the most recent captain of the eleven old boy, it was Raffles who captained the team. As well as Charleston and himself there were two other old boys who had been on the eleven during my time at the school, two who had left the same year I had joined, the rest had left quite a bit longer ago, only knowing Raffles from reputation and, of course, coming up against him in previous old boys' matches.

 

Raffles and Charleston were, at least to my eyes, just as good, if not better than they had been when they'd formed the mainstay of the eleven. As such the team had no problems at all in fulfilling Dobson's instruction to beat the current eleven.

 

Higgins was the current captain and was a boy who was not overly liked - not even by the rest of the eleven - even though he was a pretty good player. He didn't try to hide his disgust and anger at the loss as he glared at the rest of the eleven and told them how pathetic they all were. It was only when he actually raised his hand to Dixon, the fourth year wicket keeper, who had dropped what was a very difficult catch but which had he caught it would have seen Raffles out for a mere eleven runs, and made it quite clear he intended to hit him that Raffles and Charleston stepped in.

 

Charleston caught Higgins's arms and held them tightly behind his back and Raffles told Higgins exactly what he thought of him and his captaining abilities and indeed his own cricketing abilities. He also reminded him that he was in weekly contact with a boy at the school and that both Charleston and he would be returning for both Open Day and Founder's Day. He left the implication of his words up to Higgins's imagination and from the way Higgins paled and even trembled, I had no doubt he understood fully the non-veiled threat Raffles made. Raffles and Charleston had never liked bullies and had always detested any older boy who hit a younger boy - and clearly that was still the case, not that I would have expected it to be any different.

 

AFTER SUPPER

 

I didn't get a chance to spend even a minute alone with Raffles after the cricket match, even though he never let me out of this sight for a moment, as boys currently at the school, those of his own year and older boys all wanted to spend time with him.

 

Finally, his bag and cricket bag at his feet, he stood along with Charleston by the door leading out of the house; he and Charleston had to leave almost immediately in order to catch their train. He had his hand on my shoulder, where it had been for most of the post-match time, and he was gazing down at me. "I shall see you on Founder's Day, Bunny," he said as he brushed my hair from my forehead.

 

"Yes, Raffles."

 

"Do take care of yourself until then." Once more he brushed my fringe back for me.

 

"I shall, Raffles," I said gazing adoringly up at him.

 

"That's my good boy," he murmured, still gazing at me with such tender affection that I wanted nothing more than to throw myself into his arms and kiss him. However, with Charleston being with us, not to mention that fact that anyone could suddenly appear, I resigned myself to nothing more than a shoulder squeeze.

 

However, I had forgotten Raffles and his oft-times rashness. He glanced away from me and looked at Charleston who sighed, rolled his eyes, muttered something I certainly didn't hear and pointedly turned around. Raffles lowered his head and brushed his lips over mine as he gathered me into his arms and held me for a second or two before once more letting me go.

 

He then squeezed my shoulder once more, bushed my hair from my forehead for one final time, before bending to pick up his bag and cricket bag. He held both in one hand and put his other hand on Charleston's arm. "I'm ready, Charlie," he said.

 

Charleston turned back, shook his head whilst smiling fondly at Raffles. He then bent to pick his own bag and cricket bag up before putting his hand on my shoulder and squeezing it. "It was good to see you again, Manders," he said. "Enjoy the rest of the term and I too shall see you on Founder's Day."

 

"It was good to see you again too, Charleston," I said, holding out my hand to him, which he took and shook. "I hope the rest of your term goes well and I'll look forward to seeing you again soon." He smiled at me and squeezed my shoulder again before looking at Raffles. "We really do have to go, A. J.," he said.

 

Raffles nodded, took his hand from Charleston's arm to briefly ruffle my hair, before slipping his arm through Charleston's as he looked at me. "Goodbye for now, Bunny," he said.

 

"Goodbye, Raffles. Goodbye, Charleston," I added and smiled at both of them. They smiled back and I stood in the doorway and watched them walk off arm-in-arm across the quad.

 


 

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